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U.N. rights chief says anti-terror measures can backfire

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay speaks to Reuters at her hotel in Madrid April 5, 2013. REUTERS/Susana Vera
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay speaks to Reuters at her hotel in Madrid April 5, 2013. REUTERS/Susana Vera

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay told governments on Monday that trying to fight terrorism by limiting personal freedoms and mistreating suspects could only worsen the problem.

She spoke as Britain and France were considering tightening anti-terror laws and surveillance after the killings of two soldiers in London and Paris, and as U.S. President Barack Obama renewed his efforts to close the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba.

Pillay, speaking at the opening of the spring session of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, said she had received allegations of "very grave violations of human rights that have taken place in the context of counter-terrorist and counter-isurgency operations."

"Such practices are self-defeating. Measures that violate human rights do not uproot terrorism, they nurture it," she said.

Pillay made no direct reference to the killing of an off-duty British soldier in London last Wednesday by two men saying they were acting in the name of Islam and the stabbing of a soldier in the French capital.

Many politicians in both countries have called for toughening of anti-terror measures in the wake of both incidents and media reports have suggested such moves, including some that could affect free speech, might be in the works.

Pillay also said the U.S. failure to close down the Guantanamo detention center was "an example of the struggle against terrorism failing to uphold human rights, among them the right to a fair trial."

A total of 166 people from 23 countries, many held for more than a decade without charge, remain the prison set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

"The continuing detention of many of these individuals amounts to arbitrary detention, in breach of international law, and the injustice embodied in this detention center has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists," Pillay said.

She noted Obama's statement last Thursday outlining how he planned to close the center down, a move opposed by many in Congress, but said the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo must conform to international human rights law.

(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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